Muna Abed, Coordinator of Islamic Relief’s psychosocial counseling centre in Gaza, reports on the toll the ongoing crisis is taking on children.
“Children living in the Gaza Strip have been exposed to, and are suffering from, a range of trauma and abuse which put them at high risk. Children as young as three have seen bombs destroy their homes and neighbourhoods, and their friends and family killed and maimed.
“Islamic Relief works with children to reduce mental health problems. If the problems are neglected, they continue into adulthood and the next generation of parents.
Treating psychological disorders caused by trauma
“Children usually come to the centre suffering from psychological disorders caused by trauma. Disorders include phobia, anxiety, behavioral difficulties, aggression, nightmares – which really limit the child’s ability to thrive.
“Some of the children we see demonstrate a normalised attitude to violence. In the play therapy room, we see that they damage toys, shout, steal, and draw violent scenes.
“We refer children with severe disorders to a specialist mental health centre. We can treat children with milder disorders at the centre. Social workers will carry out a home visit, discuss things with the parents, and then develop a treatment plan.
“Our psychologist carries out the treatment process, which sometimes can take several months. This can include play therapy, or talking therapy that helps the children to change the way they think.
Group and family therapy
“Some children benefit from group therapy sessions, which help the children to develop their skills and talents. In many cases, we hold family sessions too – this helps family members to support the child – and work closely with schools and school counselors.
“Results are very positive: a lot of children have successfully overcome their problems. However, there are a lot of children on the waiting list – so we are keen to expand our services so we can help even more vulnerable children.”